252. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Vested German Assets

[Here follows the same list of participants as Document 249.]

The Chancellor asked whether his Foreign Minister might raise the question of German assets.

Mr. Von Brentano thereupon told the group that negotiations between the German Embassy and the Department of State had been in progress during the past weeks on the basis of the December talks of the President and Chancellor Adenauer. He stated that he did not wish to go into detail but wanted to mention only that progress had been made and agreement in principle was in sight. The questions of time and amount remained open, however. It was a fact that the Federal Government and Chancellor Adenauer particularly had been questioned about this matter by groups in the Parliament prior to his departure, and there was no doubt but that he would be questioned again upon his return. The question has been pending for years, and an early solution had been expected after the President’s July 31, 1957 statement.1 The Federal Government and the Chancellor would be grateful for assurances of an early solution. Perhaps some guidelines could be laid down on the further course of action to be taken. Mr. Von Brentano mentioned that he understood the sums to be made available were $130 million and an additional $60, 000,000–$90, 000,000, which would represent a 50% satisfaction of the German claims. The German Government would be happy to accept this as a settlement of a problem which had created a degree of unrest and trouble back home.

The President, in reply, briefly traced the history of the question, beginning with 1953, through 1958, when it had appeared that a favorable bill might be gotten through the Congress but the Germans themselves had then asked that it be withheld because they had not been satisfied with the provisions. The President repeated that he was committed to the principle of the sanctity of private property even in time of war. But not everyone felt that way, especially not his political opponents. [Page 671] At the moment there was not much hope of getting a favorable bill through Congress. He felt the best thing would be to refer the matter to Secretary Herter and Foreign Minister Von Brentano for the purpose of deciding two things: 1) the further tactics which would be most likely to bring the desired results; and 2) what might be said jointly at the present time to prove helpful to the Germans at home. That is all he felt he could say at the present time, except to reiterate his commitment to the principle involved.

Chancellor Adenauer added that he felt no mention of the matter should be made in the communiqué. He then continued, trying to explain his persistence in this matter. Because of the 1961 elections his entire twelve years of administration will be up for review and criticism. His main emphasis all along has been close association with the West, especially the US. He does not want to give his political opponents the chance to tell him that his friendship with the US has not borne fruit. It has borne fruit. Nevertheless, Ambassador Dowling, who is a keen observer of the German scene, can tell the President that this question of the return of German assets is one with political and psychological implications of some importance.

The President assured the Chancellor that he certainly did not want to damage the latter’s political situation. But, he reiterated, he had tried to settle this matter for seven years, negotiating not only with Germany, but also with his friends on the Hill. It had turned out to be a sort of three-cornered problem, with him, the President, caught in the middle. But he shall continue to do the best he can because he is committed to a fair settlement and he will try to achieve it. Perhaps the Foreign Ministers can find some way which holds out hope for success. After all, the President added, Congress is rather unpredictable, so there is no telling.

  1. Source: Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 64 D 559, CF 1610. Secret; Limit Distribution. Drafted by Lejins and approved by the White House on May 31. The conversation took place at the White House. See also Documents 249251.
  2. For text of the July 31, 1957, White House statement, see Department of State Bulletin, August 19, 1957, p. 306.